French rail travellers further disruption on Thursday as strikes halved train services but the militant CGT union’s efforts to widen the protests against planned labour reforms to air traffic control and the Paris metro appeared to have failed.
The Socialist government has refused to withdraw the reforms despite fears the standoff could disrupt the Euro 2016 soccer championship that starts on June 10 and an opinion poll on Thursday suggested public sympathy for the strikes was ebbing.
French high-speed train services were cut by 40 percent and other inter-city links by up to 70 percent on Thursday, said the state-owned SNCF railway firm, a bastion of the large CGT union.
However, the smaller UNSA union pulled out of the strike after government assurances of help with the SNCF’s 50 billion euro ($56 billion) debt, removing another strut of CGT support.
In an unrelated dispute over pay, pilots at flag carrier Air France called a strike for June 11-14, raising the spectre of more travel disruption during the Euro championship, which is expected to draw 1.5 million foreign fans.
The pilots’ dispute has little directly to do with the anti-reform movement that has sparked months of strikes and street protests, some violent, though it adds to the risk of chaos when all eyes will be on France for the soccer festival.
Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said traffic was running normally on the Paris Metro despite a strike call while unions called off an air controllers’ strike after government promises to keep staffing at current levels for the next three years.
“There’ll be no disruption of the airways this weekend,” said Vidalies after a deal that averted a June 3-5 strike.
CGT-led stoppages caused limited disruption at refineries and nuclear power plants but the union looked increasingly isolated in its efforts to force the government to withdraw labour law reforms that would make hiring and firing easier.
President Francois Hollande has rejected demands that he scrap a bill the CGT says will undermine labour protection by giving firms more scope to set in-house deals on pay and terms.
His government, which insists the reform is needed to help combat an unemployment rate of 10 percent, has been working flat out to defuse sectoral tensions and prevent various grievances coalescing into one big national protest.
PUBLIC SUPPORT EBBING
According to an Ifop opinion poll for Le Figaro magazine, 60 percent of French people believe the CGT is abusing the right to strike.
In a series of CGT publicity stunts, energy workers cut power to the town hall of Tulle, Hollande’s political fiefdom, and switched more than a million homes in the Paris area to low-cost power supply.
Union members in the southern Var region also cut off power to the holiday home of employers’ leader Pierre Gattaz after he accused protesters of behaving like “thugs”, the CGT said.
In an attempt to shore up public support, the government this week announced pay rises for state-employed teachers and pledged to restore scrapped public spending for research.
It also intervened to force SNCF management go some way towards meeting union demands that rest-time be protected in a reorganisation under negotiation ahead of a Europe-wide opening of passenger rail services to private competition from 2020.
With presidential and legislative elections a year away, the concessions to teachers could help repair damaged relations with a sector generally sympathetic to the ruling Socialists.
($1 = 0.8923 euros)